DJ Gathers – Make it Inescapable

“Make it Inescapable”

Written by Doug Geyer

Most artists, like many who express themselves creatively, desire to share their work. To engage, inspire, and provoke others outside of themselves. To have a captive audience.

Darrin Gathers is no different.

Yet for this junior from Madisonville, he is driven by something deeper than the personal satisfaction of knowing his art is seen and appreciated, perhaps even purchased. DJ has something to say. But venting via Facebook, though common for his social media saturated generation, is not the medium he chooses. His anger will not be quelled, his vision not realized, by a posting here or a tweet there. As a young, biracial man growing up and into a world filled and fuming with social injustice, he has a singular goal for proclaiming that black lives matter through his art.

“Even though I’m a part of the first generation to grow up with social media, I don’t want to just talk about it on Facebook. With everything that’s been happening around the country, through my art, I want to make the message of Black Lives Matter inescapable.”

His dedication to offer his voice to those who are often unheard coupled with countless hours in his studio bears witness to why he was one of two students chosen for the New York Studio Residency Program. As a charter member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, the AAC participates in the consortium’s annual program to give art students from around the country an opportunity to taste the Big Apple for themselves. To listen to and learn from other artists while discovering how they will make art that makes a difference.

But DJ’s passion wasn’t always so clearly professed or understood. With only two months left in his senior year of high school, he was preparing for a life of fighting fires and saving lives. It took a nudge from his mother to visit the AAC to help him realize there was no fire burning in his heart to be a professional firefighter. Once he saw the studios, envisioned having one of his own, a spark found ready tinder and he decided to change course.

“I didn’t want to just do something to earn a steady paycheck. I’d rather care about what I do.”

Like Ryan Khosla, a friend and fellow Residency recipient, DJ was drawn to the world of art while skateboarding and tagging in high school. Though at the time he didn’t envision himself moving beyond listening to hip hop, spray painting and simply enjoying the work of artists like Shepard Fairey, he was beginning to explore a world where he would ultimately become a contributor, an agent of change.

His time in New York this fall has fueled this ongoing exploration via the vast physical urbanscape itself and the inner world where his love for screen printing and collage has expanded exponentially.

DJ has also felt empowered by his mentor Oasa DuVerney. Oasa is a Brooklyn-based artist who often uses graphite and ink on paper as well as video to address social inequalities in the context of race, gender, and class.

“I’m impressed with DJ’s interest in creating work that has relevance outside of this very small art world, in spite of a less than supportive society that typically is not interested in art that is critical of the oppressive, white patriarchy that it upholds. It’s my hope that he continues to explore his voice and experience through art making because it is important and should be heard.”

To create a collage, an artist brings together various elements from different sources to give birth to a new, unified piece. Visuals that don’t typically reside in the same space somehow working as one to bring forth something of value because essentially they are different yet together. Screen printing relies on pressure applied by a hand guiding a fill blade or squeegee to push ink through a screen, persuading it through spaces it needs help to navigate.

Perhaps in the heart and hands of DJ, there are answers not only artistically but socially. Answers which are capable of bringing together people which aren’t typically residing in the same space. Birthing solutions both new and essential, applying the right kind of pressure to leave a memorable and lasting impression. Saving lives by starting constructive fires in the hearts of others eager to see equality for all.

Providing a way out through art that is inescapable.


Ryan Khosla – Poetry in Motion

“Poetry in Motion”

written by Doug Geyer

Skateboarding and surfing would probably sit next to each other at reunions. In the prolific Athletics clan, they hang on the same branch of the family tree where sport marries spirit and attitude gives birth to form and function.

Watching someone defy physics, whether on a wave or in an empty pool, and seem so relaxed while doing so, is akin to enjoying great poetry or watching a well-made film. You know what they’re doing is really hard to do well but so amazingly accessible and stirring when it is.

Ryan Khosla, one of two recipients of the New York Studio Residency Program (along with DJ Gathers), is one of those brave and rare souls who has learned how to guide both board and prose, body and video.

Though a self-described introvert, Ryan has also demonstrated an affinity for adventure, venturing off the beaten trail while breaking new and personal ones. After graduating from high school early, he moved out on his own at 17, and began casting around for a purpose beyond illegal art and substances. But the hours he spent skateboarding and spray painting (not officially commissioned works), as he grew up in Loveland and Sycamore, instigated a growing drive to express himself creatively. While he didn’t know what form that would take, he realized he was ready to connect to a community that could provide both a foundation and a jumping off point.

“I saw some of my older friends who were already at the Art Academy making art, having fun, working within a structure. The community and the structure were attractive,” Ryan remembers.

Old friends drew him to the AAC and new friends have inspired him since arriving. He has learned how much he enjoys being in the company of artists who share his passion for pushing the boundaries and drawing new ones. Being pushed in all the right ways by passionate faculty is another element of the AAC’s community which has called him higher and pointed him in new directions.

He began attending poetry readings initiated and organized by faculty and realized it’s what he wanted to do.

“I never thought of being a writer or writing poetry at all before I got here.”
Ryan attributes his pursuit of poetry, in addition to videography, to the way faculty like Matt Hart and Brett Price are able to balance fundamental instruction with the freedom to explore.

“They’re all great at guiding you with the history of poetry, having a knowledge of it, while giving you the room to develop versus trying to force you into something.”

He’s excited to explore both poetry and video during his time in New York. Taking the work ethic he thinks was part of why he was chosen and combining it with a curiosity to soak in the city. All the sights and sounds like a colossal half-pipe on which to try out new poetic moves.
Seduction of Translation (Ryan Khosla)

I can’t quite explain it,
it’s as if I’ve forgotten the smell
-David Rivard

I still wake up some mornings
pretending I’m home again.
Phil brewing his Folgers coffee
and then adding 2% milk with two spoons
of sugar. He would make me a cup next,
and I would ask him to do so because
I wanted mine just like his.
I remember this, most mornings, when
I wake up to make my own or drink
the cold one from yesterday
that I didn’t quite finish.
I translate the hues of light
on the pane of the window,
and seduce myself with the memories
moved from yesterday, to now
where they lay beside the pillow
my head rests on. The trailer park
sunrise through the plastic blinds onto
the carpet couch. The back bedroom and
the front bedroom, the old bowling alley,
and the old grocery store only a few miles
away from the rubber factory, producing
tires and providing jobs for the town,
until it finally closed down
some years later. In the morning
Phil would gnaw his way
out of bed to pick up Cathy
from the night shift at the call center,
where she worked. Cathy would come
home to sleep all day, and then she
would wake up to cook dinner.
Swiss steaks and corn, mashed potatoes and
gravy. Phil would take her back
to the call center. I would watch cartoons.
I would wait. And now when I wake up
or when I go to sleep, I think
once of Phil and once of Cathy,
then I think of coffee and
swiss steaks.

Pricked Fingers (Ryan Kosla)

or these things
on the table
I’ve felt this
before I’ve been
here before this
thing I’ve seen
and so have
you and you
have been gone
but you are
still here maybe
I am gone
but wait only
now wait, no
you are here
waterless and waiting
being torn into

Sponsor an AAC Creative Runner


If your New Year’s Resolution is about getting in shape, we have the perfect plan for you!

Sponsor one of the 14 students in our CREATIVE RUNNING class taught by AAC Professors (and avid runners) Paige Williams and Matt Hart.

In this team-taught/team-coached literature, art and running course will be held on Friday mornings this spring from 9 – 11:50 a.m.

Students will explore not only the highs, the glories and the agonies of running, but the ways they intersect with the creative process in terms of imaginative flight, commitment, endurance and performance. In addition to reading, writing art-making, discussion, and field trips, the course will include miles and miles of running!

Students will train as a class to run the Flying Pig Marathon’s 10K race (6.2 miles). Good running shoes and warm winter running clothes will be necessary for all students. (It’ll be cold in January and February, and the class will be out in it).

As a sponsor, you will

  1. Buy a pair of running shoes for your student (Estimate $85-$150)
  1. Attend at least one class or running session. (Optional)
  1. Support and cheer your student across the finish line at the Flying Pig Marathon 10k!
  1. Finally, it would be totally wonderful if you also entered and ran the race with the class.

If you want to sponsor one of our creative running artists, please contact Joan Kaup ASAP!  513-562-8745   [email protected]

Start stretching your mind. Get ready to run!


Interview with Chris Sickels


Watching his grandfather amble around the family farm hunting for bent nails is a memory that’s clung to Chris Sickels.

This regular quest was motivated not by safety or cleanliness but thrift. He was going to use them again. Bent nails. Something most would drop into the category of useless garbage before tossing them into the trash. But after the long day’s work was “done”, the nails would be pulled from his pocket and placed in an anvil for straightening. Chris recalls he’d also perfected a technique for effectively driving them post-anvil that involved spitting on the hammer’s head and rubbing it on his pants to ensure a clean strike.

This inclination to see the possibilities in that which is worn and weary also inhabited Chris’ father. As a dairy farmer living on the edge of success and survival, he had the ability to look at cows that were thin and/or ill and devise a plan to restore them to health. He does the same and more with horses today.

All of this recycling, hard work and perseverance was not lost on Chris. Though it’s been over 20 years since he left that small farm in Indiana for the big city of Cincinnati to attend the AAC, he finds himself on his own quest to reshape reclaimed items. His motivation is a mix of  thriftiness, a willingness to try and fail combined with a courageous creativity that allows him to envision and build extraordinary worlds with everyday items. And though he’s back living in another small Indiana town with his wife and four kids, memories from his time at the Art Academy have not only clung to him but played a part in reshaping him as well.

Chris remembers entering his freshman year with an insecurity that sprung from his rural upbringing and what he thought would be his limited art education. But he soon realized that Terri Martin, who was his sole art teacher through both middle and high school, had more than equipped him. Her attention and dedication even set him ahead of the curve. She also went well beyond the obligatory classroom instruction when she helped him put his portfolio together for reviews and drove him to different art schools including the AAC where he ultimately enrolled after accepting a helpful scholarship. And though he was thoroughly versed in the inner workings of farm life including the birthing process of its animal residents, he was unaware of all the options and opportunities that lay before him artistically.

As he listened to and learned from his fellow students and dedicated professors, Chris began to see how the seeds they were planting in his already fertile mind were beginning to take root and produce strange but wonderful fruit. Susan Curtis, an adjunct professor from England, took him under her wing and pushed him out of the nest at the same time. Their trip to the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County opened his eyes to new forms and styles of illustrating he wasn’t aware of. She also “locked” him in a room with two VHS tapes with compilations of stop motion animation work by the Quay brothers. Former marine and then AAC student, Sean Wallace, brought him to a magazine stand to show him illustrations of C.F. Payne in Rolling Stone. Checking out the shows of avant-garde puppeteers Mark Fox and Anthony Luensman and experimenting with his own drew out of him the desire to push beyond the two dimensions of illustration and painting into a three dimensional universe with nearly  infinite directions.

These experiences and more were opening up borders, allowing Chris to explore and travel without ever leaving Cincinnati. This spirit of exploration is something Chris sees as unique and profoundly helpful about his time at the AAC.

“That’s what the Art Academy afforded me. You could take stone carving, woodworking, etching, printing making and oil painting. You could be a communication design major but you could still go weld. I was hungry to see all that.”

He didn’t know how it would apply to what he wanted to do down the road but he was grateful for the exposure. AAC’s intentional cross-pollination was highlighted when he spent a semester at another well-known art school for an exchange program of sorts.

“I went there to study scientific illustration but I remember trying to use their photography department but you couldn’t go shoot your flat work because you weren’t a photography student. I remember trying to make frames but I couldn’t use the wood shop because I wasn’t an industrial design major.”

The farm boy from Indiana had been given a passport with no travel restrictions and he had no intention of giving that up.

In the years after graduating in 1996, Chris has added more stamps to that passport as he’s ventured into projects ranging from magazine covers, children’s books, short videos, and sculptures which coaxe you from the real into the surreal (visit The AAC honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2010.

Currently, Chris is busy making new memories with his family as he strives to stay open to all the ways they can inform his work and shape his heart. Combined with those from the farm and the AAC, these new memories are bound to birth creations which cling to those privileged to enjoy his work.

He’s still pushing. Still exploring. Trying and failing.

Always hunting for the next, bent nail.